What keeps us healthy and happy?

There was a recent survey of millennials asking them what their most important life goals were. Over 80 percent said that a major life goal for them was to get rich. And another 50 percent of those same young adults said that another major life goal was to become famous. Really, guys?


In my last article about how our thoughts have the power to destroy our lives, I already shared that if you were going to invest now in your future best self, you are less likely to condemn yourself repeatedly for the same old unwanted habits. But how do we invest best?


1. Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier. They're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. On the other hand, the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be are less happy. Their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that other studies show, that more than two out of our people in the western world will report that they're lonely.

A Harvard Study of Adult Development, maybe the longest study of adult life that's ever been done, tracked the lives of 724 men for 75 years. Year after year they were asked about their work, their home lives and their health. About 60 of the original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the research, most of them in their 90s.

A Harvard Study of Adult Development, maybe the longest study of adult life that's ever been done, tracked the lives of 724 men for 75 years. Year after year they were asked about their work, their home lives, and their health. About 60 of the original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the research, most of them in their 90s.

What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that they've generated upon these lives? Well, the lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that they got from the 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Point.


The three big lessons learned were the following:


1. Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. People who are more socially connected to family, friends and community are happier. They're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. On the other hand, the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be are less happy. Their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that other studies show, that more than two out of our people in the western world will report that they're lonely.


2. It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it's the quality of the close relationships that matters. We know that you can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage. It turns out that, for example, living in High-conflict marriages without much affection, is very bad for our health. And living amid good, warm relationships is protective. Good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the discomforts of getting old. The most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.


3. Good relationships don't just protect our bodies, they also protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in their 80s, people's memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can't count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline. Those good relationships don't have to be smooth all the time. Some couples could quarrel with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn't take a toll on their memories.


So if this message, that good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being, is nothing new (cause it isn’t): Why is it so hard to get and so easy to ignore?


The people in the 75-year study who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. This study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with the community. you get at it, the more likely you’re to say that you’ve lived a good life.

The people in the 75-year study who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. This study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with the community.


And how about you? Let's say you're 25, or you're 40. What does leaning into relationships even look like? The possibilities are endless.


It could be as simple as replacing screen time with people-time or livening up your relationship by doing something new together. It might be reaching out to that family member who you haven't spoken to in years because those all-too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.


The good life is built with good relationships.



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SEEKING BEAUTY

© 2020 by Shiloh Zache.